Steps to build a DIY low-cost fixed-wing drone for biodiversity conservation

This article outlines a cost-effective method to build a low-cost drone for conservation purposes for applications in large areas. The presented research is the outcome of work carried out in Brazil combatting deforestation and provides a low-cost scalable means to monitor habitat change.   

Date published: 2021/10/21

Title: Steps to build a DIY low-cost fixed-wing drone for biodiversity conservation 

Authors: Geison P. Mesquita, José Domingo Rodríguez-Teijeiro, Rodrigo Rocha de Oliveira, Margarita Mulero-Pázmány

Journal: PLOS ONE

Citation: Mesquita GP, Rodríguez-Teijeiro JD, de Oliveira RR, Mulero-Pázmány M (2021) Steps to build a DIY low-cost fixed-wing drone for biodiversity conservation. PLoS ONE 16(8): e0255559. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0255559

Open Access: Yes

Abstract

Despite the proved usefulness of drones in biodiversity studies, acquisition costs and difficulties in operating, maintaining and repairing these systems constrain their integration in conservation projects, particularly for low-income countries. Here we present the steps necessary to build a low-cost fixed-wing drone for environmental applications in large areas, along with instructions to increase the reliability of the system and testing its performance. Inspired by DIY (Do It Yourself) and open source models, this work prioritizes simplicity and accounts for cost-benefit for the researcher. The DIY fixed-wing drone developed has electric propulsion, can perform pre-programmed flight, can carry up to 500 g payload capacity with 65 minutes flight duration and flies at a maximum distance of 20 km. It is equipped with a RGB (Red, Green and Blue) sensor capable of obtaining 2.8 cm per pixel Ground Sample Distance (GSD) resolution at a constant altitude of 100 m above ground level (AGL). The total cost was $995 which is substantially less than the average value of similar commercial drones used in biodiversity studies. We performed 12 flight tests in auto mode using the developed model in protected areas in Brazil, obtaining RGB images that allowed us to identify deforestation spots smaller than 5 m2 and medium-sized animals. Building DIY drones requires some technical knowledge and demands more time than buying a commercial ready-to-fly system, but as proved here, it can be less expensive, which is often crucial in conservation projects.

Keywords: drones, biodiveristy monitoring, low-income countries, DIY, open source, conservation projects. 

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